The Change Up

I recently went to another Rafa Mendes seminar at Triangle Jiu-Jitsu in Durham, NC, with Jacob (my brother, blue belt), Matt (other purple belt), Sully (blue belt) and Bobby (blue belt) from our academy. We had quite an adventure! We took my van and found out, when we stopped at Chick-fil-a for lunch, that the cell in my battery was dead! Matt, thankfully, was able to find a guy willing to jump us. And once the seminar was over we had to get one of the guys there to jump us as well, after which we went straight to Advanced Auto Parts and got a new battery. Once we knew we weren’t going to have to jump the van anymore, we went and ate at this fantastic barbecue place right off of the Duke University campus. Anyway, enough about our adventure and on to my thoughts!

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If you didn’t know, when I was younger I played quite a bit of baseball and mostly was a pitcher. At that age, most pitchers are focused on learning how to throw curve balls, sinkers, splitters, etc., because they think they’re cool. But when looking back on what I used most often to get strike outs, the most devastating type of pitch was the change up. Why am I talking about baseball? Don’t worry! I’m getting to my point about jiu-jitsu in a second!

But, a little bit more about baseball and the change up. Imagine this scenario. You’re a batter and you step up to the plate. The pitcher throws a 90mph fast ball! You swing and miss. The pitcher winds up and fires another fast pitch, moving at 91mph. Because you saw it the first time, your timing is a bit better, so you chip it foul. Strike two! You think, “Now I’m ready! I got his timing down!” You get ready for the pitch, the pitcher winds up again, and surprisingly lobs in an 83mph change up that completely throws off your timing, so you swing and miss. You’re out!

Rafa was teaching us how he speed passes and shared this “change up” concept with us. He spoke about how if you go the same speed constantly, your timing can always be timed by your opponent, whether you’re moving fast or slow, and that this idea applies not only to passing, but to all of jiu-jitsu.  He, Rafa, likes to constantly change his speed, which throws his opponent off.

I had actually forgotten his comment, but then in a class last week I experienced this speed changing first hand when rolling with a black belt. He was standing and I had an open guard, in which he was moving  fairly slowly and deliberately. All of a sudden, he exploded and ran right past my guard! Boom! It definitely caught me off guard! And that’s when the concept taught by Rafa popped back into my head.

It really is amazing how such a simple concept, a simple idea, a simple change of pace, can really change your game. It’s something I’ll be focusing on in the coming weeks! Have a good one!

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“When am I going to get promoted?”

I never would have thought it. In fact, I never did think it. I most definitely never would have even muttered it! The question that every instructor hears and the question that ticks off every instructor that hears it. “When am I going to get promoted?”

Yes, sadly this question is alive and well within academies. Several weeks ago, I was talking to our head instructor and he mentioned that someone at our academy had been asking this question. Really guys!? Really!? The answer to the question is simple, “When you’re ready”.

This, asking about being promoted, really is one of my pet peeves in jiu-jitsu, because it runs so much deeper than just being inappropriate by asking. It shows what kind of person you are at the moment. Apparently you don’t think much of your instructor and you’ve been bringing an ego into the academy!

First, the main job of instructors is to instruct and help others grow. Do you really think they can instruct without watching you? They see where you are, they see your level, and they see what you know. As black belts, because they’ve been through every belt level, they know when you are a blue, purple, or brown belt. Why in the world do you think you know when you’re ready to be promoted!? You haven’t ever been a belt higher than you are right now. If the next belt isn’t around your waist, then you’re not there yet, plain and simple. Don’t disrespect your instructor that way!

Second, stop bringing an ego into the academy! I’ve heard it so much on forums and from other people. “I submitted so-and-so tonight!” Whoopdeedoo! You submitted a blue belt with an armlock! Let’s alert the media! Anyone can submit anyone else, on any given day.

I’m a purple belt. I’ve been submitted a couple times by white and blue belts and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I got submitted because I was trying something, thought I could escape, or was just genuinely caught off guard by my teammate who executed everything perfectly and caught me. You know what I do after that? I brush it off, tell them good job, and keep on rolling and learning.

Gym wins don’t count for anything. Rolling in the gym is like rolling in Las Vegas. What happens in the academy, stays in the academy. It doesn’t go on some plaque. You don’t get a trophy or a medal. You didn’t just win the Worlds. So, just because you submitted a blue, purple, brown, or black belt, doesn’t mean you’re at that level.

In summary, stop asking about being promoted. Put your head down, stay humble, work hard,  learn, and become a better grappler and person. Remember, the journey is the reward.

 

Defeatist Attitude & Perfection of Technique

Hello all! Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written. I know I always have an excuse, but they are honestly always legitimate. I recently got a new job! Yay! And it’s doing something I love: web design and graphic design. So, needless to say, that’s been taking up a majority of my time! Along with family, jiu-jitsu, working out, and the holidays. Since it’s been so long, this is basically going to be a mash-up of things that have happened and thoughts!

I went down to Georgia for two weeks of training for my new job and was thankfully able to train at an awesome gym down there! It was at Tekniques BJJ, and if you’re ever in the area, drop in! I got the first class for free and to return was fairly inexpensive. I was nervous, because it was the first academy I’ve visited, but I was surprised at how kind and chill everyone was. I went in expecting to get murdered, but they all rolled controlled and with really clean technique. It felt a lot like rolling at my home academy. I also picked up some cool techniques and got to see a completely different style of jiu-jitsu! They’re very flowing, standing guard passers, whereas most people at Team Mannon smash and pass. Overall, it was a fantastic experience! But, moving on to my thought of the night.

I know I write a lot about concepts, but I think about BJJ every day and in what ways I can improve. As I was watching a Mendes Bros. highlight, this one if you’re interested, I started thinking about perfection of technique and how I really needed to focus on it. Quick side note, big surprise to start thinking about perfection of technique while watching that video, because those transitions where crazy smooth! Anyway, what I mean is that I needed to sit down and think about techniques that had failed on me after each class.

There’s a saying I read once in reference to basketball that roughly said, “If you miss a shot, it’s no one else’s fault. You’re form was wrong. If you’re form is right, the ball will go in.” As I started thinking about perfection of jiu-jitsu technique, I realized that this same idea applied. If a tried and true jiu-jitsu technique doesn’t work for me, then I did something wrong. There’s no one else to blame.

What I’m saying is work it out. Don’t abandon the technique. I think that too often, and I’m including myself, we toss out techniques because we couldn’t get them to work the way we wanted. Go back and work it out! Maybe a step was missed. If you think, “That guy was just too strong!” Find a way around his strength. Add a step that uses leverage, timing, and balance to counteract the strength. Maybe you need to modify the technique to work for your body. Who knows!? But, you need to work it out. Don’t just toss it out the window. Perfect your technique, study your game, and fill in your holes. Even a technique you’re good at can be perfected. If you are fantastic at armlocks, but you only finish 80% of them, focus on why you don’t finish that other 20%. What’s happening? How are they escaping? How can you fix it? Study your game to improve!

I’m not big on new years resolutions and this is actually my first, but after each class, while on my way home, I’m going to record audio journals of my thoughts after class. Then I’m going to record those thoughts in a journal so that I can look over them easily. My goal is to become more analytical of my jiu-jitsu. Often times I’ve been riding back home, which is a 45 minute drive, and realized things I could have done different when a technique failed. And sadly, some of those things I’ve forgotten! Those are important breakthrough moments! Don’t lose them!

That’s my jiu-jitsu thought for tonight. Now, onto other exciting news! I recently ordered a new gi, which will hopefully be here soon. It’s a Prana Lucci. I read some reviews and it’s supposedly very comfortable and sturdy. Since my CTRL Industries Rook’s knees are shredded and my Shoyoroll Competitor is turning yellow from tons of use I needed another gi! I can’t wait for it to get here! I’ll possibly do a review of it once I receive it.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget…study your game!

Are You Still Rolling?

This will be a fairly short post. However, now that I’ve said that it probably won’t be. Anyway, I thought I’d share a rule that I enforce on myself that’s helped me. I think it’s important, because it keeps you humble, but also improves your technique overall.

In the past week or so I’ve had four or five people ask me during open mat, “Are you still rolling?” My answer, “Yes.” What is my rule? Never say no to a rollPlease don’t apply this rule at the dinner table. (Ha ha ha, just cracked myself up there.) Continuing on. I truly believe this rule has improved my game. It’s a good rule, and here’s why:

  1. You should roll as much as possible. Rolling is good! It’s the time to put your technique to the test. I freakin’ love rolling! So don’t pass up on it, even if your tired. Actually, especially if you’re tired!
  2. If you’re tired, roll! Too many people rely on strength to complete techniques. When you’re tired and force yourself to roll, you can no longer rely on that strength. So, what do you have to use? That’s right, technique. When you have to rely on technique, then that really sharpens it up! If you continue to just use strength, what happens when you face someone stronger than you? Short story, you’ll get mauled.
  3. It’s humbling, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Being humble literally means to not be arrogant and proud. Having a good attitude on the mats is always needed!

So, implement this into your game. Take this into the academy the next time you train. Never say no to a roll.

Tightening Up the Game

First of all, HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to my friend, training partner, and all around good guy, Arkeif Robinson, who won gold at the NoGi Pan Ams this past weekend! I honestly would have been surprised if you hadn’t come back with the gold! Now, onto the post.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I got my blue belt in 6 months. How did I do it? Am I some sort of physical specimen with crazy attributes? Did I wrestle, do judo, or some other form of grappling art prior to BJJ? No…and no. What did I do? It’s rather simple. I planned.

Now, I’d first like to input a disclaimer that what I’m outlining will in no way guarantee that you get to your next belt level. And, in all honestly, it shouldn’t be used for that. If you truly love jiu-jitsu, then use the method below as I did. Use it to improve your jiu-jitsu game for you, yourself, and not some belt. As Royce Gracie said, “A belt only covers two inches of your butt. You have to cover the rest.” Focus on yourself, and the belt will come in due time.

Anyway, I talk to a lot of guys on the mat and they just seem to be training like they’re in the ocean. They’re going this way and that way, falling in and out of waves, and adding an odd assortment of things to their jiu-jitsu game. They just work on “whatever” and see where it takes them. As I started BJJ, I looked at my progress as I would going to college. I saw the end goal as my overall jiu-jitsu game improving, so therefore I took the necessary steps (college classes) to try and reach my goal. Think about it. People would think you were crazy if you went to college for a bachelors in history, but picked random classes to attend, instead of asking a counselor and looking up the required classes in the college catalog.

So, what did I do for BJJ? I researched online, asked online, asked my instructor, and so on and so forth, about what basics I needed to know. Eventually, I was led to Roy Dean’s Blue Belt Requirements, after several recommendations, and planned out my progress based on the DVD. I took one technique a week and would watch it every single day, which would only take 5-6 minutes. While watching, I would write down the steps for the technique to further cement it into my mind. I would then “shadow roll”, thinking about the required steps to execute the technique. And finally, during rolling in class, I would focus on attempting that single technique.

Now, for a beginner, I think the above is a perfect outline of how to go about getting better. If your brand new, try my method. But, as you near experienced blue belt level and above, that week of practicing a single technique, becomes 4-5 months of concentrating on a technique and it’s variations. I’m continuing in my planning by researching and asking and I’ve seen my game improve. I know that if I faced me as a day one blue belt, I would obliterate myself.

What I’m trying to say is, we need to not just train hard, but smart.

Persistence in Guard Passing

If you’ve read my blog before, then you know that I’m a big fan of the Mendes Bros., but recently I’ve been watching a lot of Leandro Lo, especially after the BJJ Scout put out tons of videos on him. His guard passing is amazing! Why? Because, he is persistent in his passing, which I believe is the sweet spot when it comes to passing mentalities. Before we cover persistence, and what it means, I’d like to go over the two passing mentalities that I think can have some negative effects.

Stubbornness

Being stubborn is both a gift and a curse in many areas of life, but in guard passing, being stubborn is really only a curse. So, what is my definition of stubborn guard passing?

It’s trying a knee slide and getting it stuffed. So, you then try a knee slide again, and again, and again. Every single time your opponent stops your knee slide attempt right in its’ tracks. What makes this bad, you ask?

  1. Obviously your opponent knows the defense to the pass. You’re most likely not going to pass his/her guard with that particular pass.
  2. When you continue doing the pass, then it’s even easier for your opponent to stop, since they are expecting it.
  3. Since your opponent is expecting it, you then allow them to counter more easily.

It’s a terrible idea! I’ve seen it several times, especially at blue and white belt. It doesn’t pay to be stubborn! Don’t do it!

Resetting

Resetting is the most common type of mindset I’ve seen in guard passing and it really can sometimes go hand-in-hand with stubbornness, which makes it even worse! So, what is resetting?

It’s going to a knee slide, getting it stuffed and then settling down into your opponents half guard. Pausing there for several seconds and then going for another pass OR being stubborn and going for the same exact pass again! What makes this bad?

  1. You had them on the defensive! Now you are giving your opponent a chance to compose themselves.
  2. Since you are giving them a chance to compose themselves, you’re also giving them a chance to attack back!

It’s just a bad idea. Do generals on the battle field, when they are pushing forward and meet resistance, take steps back to reset? No! They hold their ground. They push forward. They keep attacking and you should too!

Persistence

Persistence. Stubbornness. What’s the difference?

stub·born [stuhb-ern]
adjective
1. unreasonably inflexible attitude.

per·sist·ent [per-sis-tuh nt, -zis]
adjective
1. persisting in spite of opposition and obstacles.

Stubbornness is being set in your ways. What is persistence? Unlike stubbornness, persistence is moving towards your goal of passing your opponents guard, but using different techniques to get there!

It’s trying a knee slide, getting that stuffed, so you immediately try a leg drag! What is so great about this?

  1. Your opponent may know the defense to one pass, but not to another. This raises your chances of passing your opponents guard.
  2. It’s unexpected, so you surprise your opponent with whatever secondary pass you attempt. It also makes you harder to counter and sweep.
  3. You’re attacking constantly, which means your opponent is constantly on the defensive, instead of being on the offensive.

It’s really the way to go and I’ve really been trying to employ this mindset. And if you’re a white belt who only knows one pass, this still applies to you! First of all, learn some more passes! They are extremely important. But second, switch the direction you do your one pass! If you try to knee slide to the right and it fails, go to the left! Try something new! I guarantee you, over time, it will really help your passing!

Studying Submission Defense

If you didn’t know, I’m constantly pursuing BJJ forums such as Sherdog, UG and the Jiu-Jitsu Forums and reading all I can. I’ve seen many a thread posted by white belts asking how to get out of certain submissions and so on and so forth. So, I wanted to write a post about my thoughts when it comes to defense.

You might have asked your instructor, “How do I get out of ‘name of submission’?” and he might have replied, “By not getting in an/a/the ‘name of submission’.” Some people sigh at this response, because it’s so obvious, but it’s really setting the correct mindset. When I first heard this as a white belt, I studied some and understood the mindset, but I wasn’t able to figure out how to get there. Now that I actually have, hopefully I can outline the mindset and some resemblance of a way to get there.

The Mindset

Obviously not getting in the submission in the first place is advantageous. If you’re in a submission and trying to escape, you’re playing with fire, so to speak. If you don’t get in the submission at all, then you’re going to be much safer. That’s pretty much a no-brainer. But, how do you not get into a submission? That’s the real question.

Answer: By seeing it coming. If you can see a submission coming, you can stop it before it turns into one.

But…How?

This part takes some work. I won’t lie to you, but it yields fantastic results! It requires…studying. In order to defeat a submission before it starts, I think you need to do two things.

  1. Need to know submission set-ups. Study how people get to submissions, how they set-up submission and what they do to try and “trick” people into submissions. You can study it by watching video, watching “upper belts” in class and even by rolling and just letting yourself get submitted.
  2. Need to know how submissions work. Often times there are certain steps needed in order to complete a submission and they usually require all of the certain steps to be completed. If you see the submission coming and know the steps, all you literally have to do is stop one step from happening. For example, you need my elbow on your stomach in order to armlock me from the guard. If I see it coming, because of how you are moving and setting up your grips, then I can pull my elbow back in a position where it cannot be armlocked. Therefore, I’ve stopped your armlock just by a simple movement.

Now you might ask, where do I start? Start with whatever submission you get submitted by the most! Study it. Watch it over and over. Learn it. And eventually, you’ll be able to stop it before it starts. And after that, you’ll notice that you’re now getting tapped by a different submission. What do you do? Move on to studying that!

(NOTE: I do encourage the training of actual submission escapes! So, do not abandon them! The concept above is something that’s fantastic to add! Two layers of defense is better than one!)

 

 

Don’t Settle

These past couple of months our whole academy has been focusing on not settling and I’m really seeing benefits. What do I mean by not settling? Often times, at lower levels of BJJ, we’ll accomplish something and settle into it before moving forward. For example, I’m having trouble passing someone’s guard, but I finally get past and settle right into side control. I then think, “Whew, got past his guard!” and I pause there. This is terrible!

What I should be doing is immediately after I pass, I should then be attacking! It’s the best time to attack. Think about it. If I pass your guard and pause, I then give you a chance to “regroup” and mount an escape or reversal attempt. If I immediately go into an attack right after passing your legs, you don’t have a chance to think about escaping, but must rather confront my attack. I’ve been snagging many more submissions while applying this thinking. Even if you’re a white belt who knows one submission from mount, as soon as you pass someones guard, immediately go into mount and go after that submission! And it doesn’t just apply to passing guard! If I sweep, I should immediately go into a pass and then immediately into an attack! It’s really an amazing thought. And even though it seems so simple, I never really consciously applied it to myself until now.

But, on top of that whole development, while driving home the other night I thought about the core people at the academy I attend. And by core I mean the people that always attend and seem to be improving quite a bit. While thinking about them, I realized that they all fall into the rules I’ve put in place for myself when training. Specifically, my two rules for rolling, which are: 1. One roll is not enough. 2. Never turn down a roll.

Several times I’ve seen people roll once and then just leave class. One roll per class isn’t enough though! And I’ve also seen people, and this is extremely often, turn down a roll because, and I quote, “I’m exhausted.” or “I’m to tired.” That is the perfect time to roll! That’s the time that makes you grow in jiu-jitsu! That’s the time that makes you use technique instead of strength! You should never turn down a roll if you’re in good health. Never! Apply these rules to your rolling and I’m sure you’ll see a marked improvement!

Go for it!

I know, I know, it’s been a while. I’m sorry, but it seems from now on my life is going to be constantly crazy, so I’m not going to explain all that’s going on. Just wanted to spread some advice that’s truly helped me so far.

As you know, from reading my previous post (if you did), I’ve been working on my leg drag pass. Now, I’m still actually working on it, but I’ve moved to working on my closed guard, instead of my half guard. It seems I spoke to soon about my half guard being harder to pass. Yes, it’s gotten better, but I found out that for some odd reason (long legs) I have a very tough closed guard and I’ve gotten rather good at attacking from it. I’m going to share a couple pointers that I noticed about closed guard later in the post, but for now, let’s discuss what I originally set out to write about.

Last week I was rolling with Andrew, one of our purple belts, and I tried to leg drag him several times. Every time I failed and I chalked it up to him just countering what I was doing. After our roll, he said, “If you’re going to go for the leg drag, go for the leg drag. You’re playing with my pants to much. If Justin (one of our black belts) goes for an arm drag, he’s either getting the arm drag or ripping your arm off.”

He then sat down into seated guard and said, “Go for the leg drag, but actually go for it.” I’ve been drilling the leg drag for months now, but when I actually went for it I must admit, I believe it was the most beautiful leg drag I’ve ever done. Andrew seemed happy with the way I did it and asked me to drill it several more times.

On my way home from BJJ, I thought about it and really tried to drill it into my head. “If you’re going to go for something, go for it 100%.” I had been playing around with the pants, trying to get grips, all the while broadcasting what I was going to do. And then, I was hesitating in the middle and backing up out of it.

After drilling that into my head, I’ve really seen an improvement in my open guard passing and in my all around game. Just for clarification, I don’t mean if you get a submission go 100% and yank it like you’re in a competition, but if you’re going to go for a submission, actually go for it. Don’t pause midway. Don’t hesitate. Don’t play around with the grips. Grip it and attempt it. That concept truly has helped me all around.

As for my mentioning earlier about closed guard tips, I hadn’t originally planned to write this when setting out, but I definitely think it’s well worth it. With that said, sorry if they aren’t great, but they are unplanned so they are off the top of my head. Here are my tips:

  1. Don’t be lazy! Always attack. If you’re constantly attacking then you’re opponent won’t have any chance to pass, as they’ll be constantly defending.
  2. Feet to the floor. I saw a video from Stephan Kesting where he was discussing a tip he read from a Shawn Williams book. In the book, Shawn Williams talked about feet and hip positioning in the bottom of the guard. Instead of laying with your hips flat on the floor and your feet crossed on their lower back, push your heels to the floor. Pushing your heels to the floor will lift your hips (making the knee in butt to break the guard practically impossible) and put tons of pressure on their hips. Now, do you do this all the time? No. If my opponent is postured up/trying to pass, yes! Always do it then. But, once I have my opponent’s posture broken, then I move up to a higher guard in order to keep it broken and create better attacks.
  3. Attack with numbers/break posture with numbers. If you’re going to attack an arm, attack with numbers. What I mean is, attack 2 on 1 if you have the opportunity. Break down an opponents frame (their arms) using the 2 on 1 method. I usually break down one arm with two, then my legs and body weight can break the rest of their frame. Think about it, if you strip 1 arm, they’ve lost 50% of their posturing strength. Unless they have a significant strength advantage, then you’re legs and weight should break the rest down. Or you can immediately used the 2 on 1 for the next arm.

Those are the tips I can think of that I’ve really noticed recently and that work well. Hopefully they can help someone with their closed guard game and hopefully I’ll be able to post more often.

Update 6/12/2012

Whew! Boy, have I been busy! I’m not going to list off all of the craziness, but let’s just say that my life got even busier since the last time I posted. With that said, I’ve still been going to class and actually managed to get into class three times in one week, a week ago. Also, one of my best friends who started BJJ with me, but dropped off for financial reasons, is coming again and plans on continuing to come.

As far as my BJJ game goes, I’m still working on my half guard. I’ve learned a lot more sweeps and am happy with the progress I’m seeing. My guard is getting much harder to pass. I try any submissions I see from the bottom and am getting a good feel for the distancing needed in half guard.

I’ve also been working on my leg drag pass and am getting much better with it. I can usually get the pass after a couple of tries on more experience BJJers. I’ve also been working on another drag, the arm drag from guard, and how to get to my opponents back easier.

I’m currently working on the Team Mannon BJJ website, as we’re moving locations, and everything is coming along great. Still got some things to smooth out, but otherwise, it’s looking good.

Also, something I’m extremely excited about, I’ll be attending a Mendes Bros. seminar in Charlotte, NC in September! Can’t wait! I’ll definitely be taking my camera so that I can get some good pictures! I’m unsure as to whether or not other people from Team Mannon will be coming as well, but Andrew and Justin mentioned that they might.

Anyway, I’ll try to post more often, but I won’t make any promises! Train hard!